A suggestion that Cambodia consider setting up a three-month “caretaker” government prior to next year’s national elections has apparently touched a nerve with Prime Minister Hun Sen. On Wednesday, he called the idea unconstitutional, and said anyone trying such a scheme would go to prison.
“This is inspiring a [non-violent] political coup,” Hun Sen said.
Speaking at a road project in Kandal province, the prime minister was responding to an article in Tuesday’s Cambodia Daily in which a number of well-known Cambodians discussed ideas for reorganizing the National Election Committee and improving the election process.
One person quoted was Lao Mong Hay, the former director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy. Although the prime minister did not mention anyone by name Wednesday, it was clear he was responding to statements made by Lao Mong Hay. Several Khmer-language newspapers on Wednesday ran versions of the same story, leading with Lao Mong Hay’s comments.
“I am very sorry our prime minister has overreacted to my suggestion,” Lao Mong Hay said Wednesday. “I had no intention to suggest anything remotely resembling a coup.”
In the story, Lao Mong Hay made a number of suggestions for improving the 2003 national elections, including banning donations by politicians to voters for three months before Election Day. He also suggested asking King Norodom Sihanouk to head a caretaker government for the same three-month period.
This would create a “neutral atmosphere” for the election, Lao Mong Hay said, pointing out that Bangladesh uses this procedure.
In a speech broadcast Wednesday on national radio, Hun Sen said only the parliament has the right to dismantle the government, and that his government would stay on the job until the new one is sworn in.
If anyone tries to call for a temporary government, Hun Sen said, “it doesn’t matter where you run to, because I will protect the Constitution and the people. We can’t let you dismantle the government.”
The prime minister said he was also incensed at the idea of banning politicians’ donations to voters. “So they mean, if people have nothing to eat, they should be left to die?” Hun Sen asked.
The prime minister said he was speaking out because such ideas must be stopped early.
“I must prevent this concern from becoming widespread, because if we let that doctor talk, it could affect the feelings of millions of people,” Hun Sen said.